©ESI Photography. Kate Conover and Trendy on their way to a victory in the $50,000 East Meets West Hunter Challenge.
OCALA, FL (March 17, 2013) – East Coast hunter riders went to bats with their West Coast rivals Saturday in the highly-anticipated $50,000 East Meets West Hunter Challenge, where Kate Conover rode to first and second-place honors. Conover, of Ocala, Florida, piloted Caroline Kellogg’s Trendy to the win and James Johnson’s Kingston to second.
Challengers from both HITS Post Time Farm in Ocala, Florida and HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, California rotated rounds in a “battle of the coasts” that was evaluated by two sets of judges – Pat Boyle and Brian Lenehan in Florida and Keith Hastings and Alex Talmage in California.
“I have never done something like this before, so it was a little nerve-racking, but it went beautifully,” said Hastings. “It was definitely a new vantage point to view the class from a television screen, but it was still clear that we had a great group of horses out there. The quality of horse and rider was great and it’s obvious that classes like this bring out the best in our sport.”
A live simulcast connected the two sets of judges watching on high definition monitors while the audience watched the events play out on the opposite coast with ringside scoreboards. Furthering the cutting-edge nature of the class, off-site spectators were able to get in on the action, thanks to a live webcast provided by Galopando TV and iEquine.com. Karen Manning, a frequent HITS competitor and horse-sport fan, was able to tune in from her home in Connecticut and watch the goings on at both HITS Ocala and Thermal. “I felt like I was at the horse show – I didn’t miss a single thing,” she said. “Seeing our sport delivered to the masses like that is a very exciting step in the right direction.”
The class reinvented the bi-coastal concept first employed by HITS from 1999-2001 when the company staged the industry’s first simulcast event between in Florida and California. In the early days of the class, California saw great success, but Florida surely made its comeback this time around.
“It is always great for hunters from all over the U.S. to get to compete against each other,” said Tom Struzzieri, HITS president and CEO. “The combination of the big prize money, the unique format and the added benefit of points counting for the Diamond Mills $500,000 Hunter Prix Final in Saugerties next September made for a very special hunter experience.”
Conover was leading on Kingston with seven left to show, including her trip with Trendy, who entered as the second-to-last trip of the day prior to Calabasas, California’s Jenny Karazissis. “Jenny is one of the top riders in this sport, so I knew that I really had to lay it down – I couldn’t leave her any room,” said Conover.
And lay it down she did, earning a 95 on the East Coast and an 89 on the West, for a combined score of 184 for the win. Her 178 with Kingston was good enough for second. With Kingston, she earned a 90 from East Coast judges and an 88 from the West Coast panel.
“My goal this week was just to make it to today’s final round. Going late in the class was a huge benefit – I was able to watch or hear all the scores coming out of both Ocala and Thermal,” said Conover. “HITS continues to give away huge purses to hunters – something that is so rare in our sport. Aside from the money; the course was great, the jumps were fun and getting to compete against riders from the West Coast was especially exciting.”
Leading the West Coast contingent was Karazissis aboard Kelly Straeter’s Undeniable. They rode to a combined score of 177, just shy of second place. “This horse was champion this week in the First Year Greens, so I felt like there was a bit of pressure on me to do well. We were really focused on making it to the final round today and he did great – there is not a thing I don’t like about him,” Karazissis said of Undeniable, a 6-year-old Warmblood that she has been riding only since the beginning of the HITS Desert Circuit.
“I have been looking forward to this class since I first heard about it and I wanted so badly to make it to the final round and get to ride in the Grand Prix Field against the east,” said Karazissis. “So often West Coast riders have to go east to be able to compete against those riders, so to be able to stay here and still ride with them was so different and exciting.”
Also representing the West Coast, Taylor Ann Adams of Calabasas, California, who has spent her fair share of time competing in the east, faced some of her old rivals and rode to fourth with Elizabeth Reilly’s Small Celebration. They earned a combined score of 171 – an 85 from the East Coast panel and an 86 from the West. Capping the top five was East Coast rider Greg Crolick of Auburn Hills, Michigan. He piloted Carson, owned by Orchard Lake Farms, LLC, to an East score of 87 and West score of 80 for a combined score of 167.5.
With the conclusion of the $50,000 East Meets West Hunter Challenge, attention will now turn to the big-money offerings scheduled for Sunday. In Ocala, the $100,000 Sullivan GMC Truck Grand Prix, presented by Great American Insurance Group, will take the stage, while the coveted AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix, presented by Lamborghini Newport Beach, final arrives.